Now online -- Dr David Larkin's talk on 'Beyond the opera house: CS Lewis & Wagner reception in Edwardian Britain', 18 October 2020

You can watch Dr Larkin's zoom presentation at


Dr Larkin


About the talk:


In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) memorably described how the chance sight of one of Arthur Rackham’s Ring Cycle drawings in his teenage years was a life-changing event, when a feeling of ‘pure “Northernness” engulfed [him]’. After reading prose summaries and verse translations of the Ring, he wrote a lengthy poem based on the plot of Rheingold. Although he was on his own admission a ‘layman [with] no music education’, Lewis even penned a short essay on the composer in his adolescence. He also chased up the recordings of Wagnerian ‘highlights’ which were in circulation at the time. However, it was not until 1918, long after the essay was written, that he finally experienced Die Walküre in full in the theatre.


Lewis was far from being the first British literary figure to conceive a passion for Wagner: in the preceding decades writers as different as E. M. Forster, Ford Madox Ford and Virginia Woolf had all succumbed to the spell of the music dramas, at least for a time. However, Lewis’s path to Wagner differs from theirs in one significant way: it was not sparked off by an immersive theatrical experience. Getting acquainted with Wagner via pictorial and literary channels was in fact quite easy, given how saturated the media were with all things Wagnerian in the early 1900s. Yet it was the existence of recorded excerpts which provided a crucial new avenue of approach, without which his enthusiasm would certainly have faltered. In my talk, I will retrace Lewis’s journey, with special attention given to what was available on sound recordings before World War I. Lewis thus serves as an early instance of how the gramophone created new audiences for Wagner.